Your sermons on integrity are a bit rich, archbishop, given your faith in Paula Vennells

Justin Welby has urged politicians to behave nicely. Shame he didn’t say as much to the former Post Office boss


he archbishop of Canterbury moved with impressive speed when the general election was announced, to remind everyone to behave nicely. He urged people, “of all faiths and none”, to prioritise, above all, “good grace and a commitment to truth and integrity”.

By some miracle, the election news had already constrained coverage of a potential disincentive to listening to the further exhortations of J Welby: the appearance at the Post Office inquiry of Rev Paula Vennells, the former Post Office CEO and Church of England adviser.

Archbishop Justin, it is reported, once wanted this pious retweeter of his own insights to be bishop of London. True, Vennells didn’t get the bishop job, she “stood down” as a part-time curate and is no longer the church’s go-to governance authority, but while no Anglican archbishop would consider himself infallible, it can’t help when a favourite is exposed as contributing to untold injustice and misery.

That’s if Vennells wasn’t more like a mentor. In the preface to his 2018 book, Reimagining Britain: Foundations for Hope (published after 555 postmasters had already launched legal action against the Post Office), Welby says she “shaped my thinking over the years”. It was odd, you might think, for a spiritual leader to pay tribute to a CEO whose theological scholarship, even if she was inspired by King Solomon, seems limited to a part-time course and volunteer officiating. But perhaps Welby’s Church of England is closer, spiritually, to L’Oreal, Unilever, Argos and other landmarks on the Vennells CV than the average non-believer can comprehend.

By the end of her recent cross examination, any claim Vennells might once have had to Welby’s recommended “integrity” had, of course, been comprehensively trashed. Her “commitment to truth” didn’t look much better. Why had this ordained minister told the business select committee in 2015 that remote access to branch transactions was impossible? After reports and warnings stating the opposite?

As for the “good grace” the archbishop urges us to cherish, the weepy Vennells would be reminded, among many inglorious episodes, of a “triumphalist” email from 2014. Following an item on The One Show about subpostmasters whose lives were devastated, Vennells said she had been “more bored than outraged”. Unfavourable content was dismissed as “hype and human interest”.

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